Dolly Parton has long been regarded by many as the face of country music. And now, she's No. 1 on Country Music Television's list of the 100 greatest love songs with "I Will Always Love You", which Parton took to the top of the country charts in 1974.
The song got a rebirth 18 years later when Whitney Houston made it a No. 1 pop hit and it was featured in the movie "The Bodyguard."
Parton wasn't immediately available for comment, but in 1998 she told CMT about a woman who stopped her in an airport and thanked her for writing the lyrics.
"The lady's father was dying of cancer, and he had never been able to tell his family how much he loved them," Parton said. "When he heard the song, he went out and bought the cassette and brought each of his children in individually and played the song for them. He said, `These are the words I want you to know are in my heart."'
Parton called the encounter "one of the proudest moments of my life."
Rounding out the top 12 love songs: Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind"; Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams"; Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen"; Conway Twitty's "Hello Darlin"'; Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers"; Lonestar's "Amazed"; Kenny Rogers' "She Believes in Me"; George Strait's "I Cross My Heart"; George Jones and Tammy Wynette's "Golden Ring"; Merle Haggard's "That's The Way Love Goes"; and "When You Say Nothing At All," a hit for Keith Whitley and later Alison Krauss & Union Station.
CMT released the list Wednesday in a concert in which the top 12 were performed.
Parton was scheduled to be there, as were Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley with the Del McCoury Band, Sara Evans, Joe Nichols, Michael McDonald, Lonestar, Josh Turner, Julie Roberts, Buddy Jewell and Raul Malo of The Mavericks.
McDonald, a pop and rock singer with a deep, soulful voice, was to perform Nelson's song.
"It's a beautiful song," McDonald said. "It expresses one of those great sentiments. There's no one out there who hasn't experienced that."
Rogers recalled how "She Believes in Me" stood out when he first heard it and how he knew right away that he wanted to record it.
"I thought it was the ultimate musician's song," Rogers said. "In the song it talks about the old guitar in the corner and he's out trying to hustle and make a living for himself. He comes home and when it really gets tough it's nice to know she believes in me."
The two-hour concert will air Sunday on CMT at 8 p.m. and will be preceded by a four-hour documentary about the songs.
The selection process was loose. A team at CMT came up with the list, trying to capture "the full breadth and scope of country music's rich history of love songs — in their many aspects," a spokeswoman said.
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